Don’t expect legislature’s K-12 formula to get courts out of Kansas school finance, says Shawnee Mission lobbyist

Stuart Little, the district's lobbyist.
Stuart Little, the district’s lobbyist.

The school funding remedy approved by the Kansas legislature this month and currently under review by the Kansas Supreme Court is unlikely to keep the state’s judicial branch out of K-12 finance decisions in the coming years, Shawnee Mission School District lobbyist Stuart Little told the board of education Monday.

Not only are there considerable doubts about whether the $290 million the legislature approved injecting into the K-12 system over the next two years is enough to satisfying the court’s “adequacy” requirements, but also concerns persist about whether the plan signed by Gov. Sam Brownback does enough to address the roughly quarter of Kansas students who are underperforming, a group singled out by the court in its ruling.

“There is a very specific target population that the court wants to address, which are those kids that are not keeping up with the rest,” Little said, noting that the legislature’s K-12 funding formula has relatively few mechanisms in place to target those students. “In all honesty…there are probably 10 other things that could have been done to target that, and frankly we ran out of time…There’s more money in there. But there’s a lot of other things that could be done to help those kids.”

Little also noted that the plaintiffs in the case had sought hundreds of millions more in new funding than the new plan provides. Some analysts had suggested it would take $500 million to $800 million to pass the adequacy test.

“In the range of dollars that were talked about satisfying the Supreme Court, this…$290 million, is at the low end of the range,” Little said.

Consequently, Little said he expected that the court would maintain jurisdiction over K-12 finance in the state, and that there was a “likelihood that the court is not going to wander far from watching what happens.”

Board member Cindy Neighbor, who is also a member of the Kansas House, said she believed the court would want to see measured progress on the performance of the targeted underperforming students before it stepped out of the case.

“In order for the courts to be able to be satisfied, in that area, that progress is being made, I think they’ll maintain jurisdiction,” Neighbor said.